We spoke to the 2015 Scottish Sheep Farmer of the Year from the heart of where it started at her Armadale farm in Sutherland, situated in the stunning Highland countryside between John O’Groats and Cape Wrath. She’s just in from clearing sheep off the hills on a bitterly cold winter’s day, but she’s laughing and joking about how much fun she has in her job. However, she wasn’t always convinced farming was for her:
“When I was younger we would always be out helping on the farm, and I probably got a bit sick of it. When I left school I said ‘I’m not going to be a farmer’ so I went to the local mainstream source of employment, which was the atomic energy base down the road. I lasted about six months and thought there is no way I can do this for the rest of my life.”
The realisation that farming was actually a good choice inspired Joyce to apply to SRUC, Auchincruive, where she undertook a National Diploma of Agriculture, graduating in 1990:
“I’ve made lifelong friends there. I got a lovely card in the post the other day from one of the lecturers. I was probably quite lazy at school, but was inspired at SRUC.”
That inspiration has led her to become one of the most influential women in the farming sector. Now a co-chair of the Women in Agriculture taskforce for Scotland, Joyce is encouraging women to take ownership and be empowered:
“The challenge is getting more women in agriculture to have the confidence to stand up and say, ‘You know what, I want to go for that head position’, instead of taking a back seat.”
The Women in Agriculture taskforce also includes SRUC’s Principal and Chief Executive, Prof Wayne Powell, who will have a key focus within the taskforce on training and education. The taskforce is also co-chaired by Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity.
Joyce often finds herself as the only female voice at events, but she is always keen to share her views and successes on using social media to promote the industry:
“I’ve just came back from a talk I did in Orkney. There were 62 people in the room and only one of them was a woman. It was intimidating but I have a drive in me from growing up and learning on the farm. It was the toughest audience I’ve ever had but they were very nice. I spoke to them about the farm, about social media and how I use it. You need to showcase what you are doing.”
Through social media, Joyce is getting her message about buying Scottish produce out globally. She recalls the moment two years ago when she posted on Facebook a drone video of a flock of sheep being herded. It went viral, with over four million views:
“I remember going to the hill to attend to the sheep and I came back and I had 99 friend requests. I phoned my sister asking, ‘What I am going to do?’ And she said ‘Are you going to keep moaning about people not eating Scottish lamb or are you actually going to do something about it?’”
For Joyce this was the turning point. She decided to take all the friend requests from all over the world and engage with consumers. It was this ambition that helped her win AgriScot’s first Scottish Sheep Farm of the Year award in 2015.
“It’s about taking your challenges and making them into your strengths and I’ve tried to do this on social media. A rough day at lambing time - you would take pictures of pretty bad weather and show it how it is and say, ‘Well this is sheep being reared in weather like this, and they can survive.’”
Joyce is a passionate brand ambassador for Scotch Lamb PGI, a stamp that ensures animals have been bred and raised on assured Scottish farms that have adopted best practice, including animal welfare and natural production methods. Using social media has ensured Joyce can spread her message to the widest possible audience:
“Social media has a far reach. It’s easy to speak to local farmers, but it’s not so easy to talk to people in large numbers. I always have a camera on my back to capture moments that I can share with the public.”
Her message is simple: buying Scottish lamb and beef helps support Scottish rural communities. This in turn benefits the tourists when they visit and can see a healthy and vibrant local community.
“Tell the people on social media, that if they look for our product they are making a difference, they are keeping lights on in remote parts of Scotland. If you can be brave enough to go into the supermarkets and tell them to stock local produce, that makes a big difference.”
Having a spokeswoman like Joyce in the agriculture sector is making a difference for the next generation of farmers. She encourages graduates to simply go for it, whatever that passion may be:
“Don’t be afraid to fail. We have one life, so have no regrets when you are in an old person’s home!”
Posted February 2018